Director of the Department of Social Services: Who Is Will Lightbourne?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Will Lightbourne

Jerry Brown’s new director at the Department of Social Services, Will Lightbourne, landed in Sacramento in 2011 and was immediately immersed in controversy over his pay package, which topped that of the man who appointed him.

A Jamaican immigrant, Lightbourne graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor of arts degree and launched his career in 1975 working for Catholic Charities in San Francisco, where he held a number of positions, including chief executive officer and general director. He moved to the Santa Cruz County Human Services Agency in 1990 to become its director and stayed six years. Lightbourne headed up the San Francisco City and County Human Services Agency from 1996 to 2000.

He served as director of the Santa Clara County Social Service Agency for 11 years before being tapped by Governor Brown in an agreement between the county and state. Lightbourne will retain his $216,611 salary and remain a county employee, but the state will reimburse the county for his salary and benefits package. That brings his entire pay package to $343,000 per year. That’s more than the governor earns and $51,000 more than his predecessor. Lightbourne’s $1.25 million contract that runs from May 2011 through December 2014 generated heated debate at a time the state’s huge deficit was forcing significant cuts to his department, which serves the poor, elderly and children.

Because of the unusual deal he struck in 2011 Lightbourne will make $51,000 more than his predecessor. On top of that, he’ll get a monthly $400 car allowance, although lawmakers and other state officials have been stripped of theirs.

Lightbourne, who spent 11 years as director of the Santa Clara County Social Service Agency, will continue to receive his present $216,611 base pay and benefits from the county while the state reimburses it for the full amount. This allows Lightbourne to skate by the state law that sets pay for the post at $165,000; benefits generally add 30% to a total compensation package. He will make about $120,000 more than if he had been hired under normal procedures.

Lightbourne’s boss, California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley, said Lightbourne's compensation “is worth it to the people of California” because he has the “skills and expertise for the challenges we face.” Others say it’s hazard pay for the brutal hacking of social programs the department faces in the near future.

Not everyone agrees Lightbourne deserves the extra pay. “I can’t believe that he has more responsibility or burden on his shoulders than the governor of California,”  Republican state Senator Doug LaMalfa said.

-Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Santa Cruz Welfare Chief Gains S.F. Post (by Gregory Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle)

Director Will Lightbourne`s Biography (CDSS website)

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